Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District approved

Opposition claimed that costs associated with designation would be too burdensome. The City Council approved Landmarks’ designation of the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District in Brooklyn. The district includes 21 buildings along Court, Montague, Remsen, Joralemon, and Livingston Streets.

Business groups and property owners, including the owners of 186 Remsen Street and the residents of 75 Livingston Street, opposed the district. At Landmarks’ public hearing in February 2011, they argued that some buildings in the district lacked architectural significance, and expressed concern about the financial impact of land-marking. Local Council Member Stephen Levin and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz supported the district, but asked Landmarks to consider removing 75 Livingston from its boundaries. In September 2011, Landmarks designated the district as originally proposed. 8 CityLand 142 (Oct. 15, 2011). 

During the City Planning Commission’s review, the opposition claimed that the historic district would conflict with the development goals of the Special Downtown Brooklyn District. The Commission disagreed and approved the designation. Several commissioners, however, took issue with the Commission’s limited scope of review of designations. 8 CityLand 170 (Dec. 2011).

At the Council’s Landmarks, Public Siting & Maritime Uses Subcommittee hearing in December 2011, council members questioned Landmarks’ representatives about the potential economic impacts associated with landmarking. Jenny Fernandez, director of intergovernmental and community relations at Landmarks, explained that it would depend on the type of building, the work being proposed, and the materials being used. Fernandez said that Landmarks would be interested in seeing an independent group conduct an objective study of the potential impacts, and noted that the agency was integrating several in-house databases to more efficiently compile the type of data requested by the Council.

Council Member Levin pointed out that property owners within the proposed district were concerned that designation would make it difficult to retain and attract ground floor retail tenants. Sarah Carroll, director of preservation at Landmarks, responded that Landmarks had recently adopted rules streamlining staff-level approval for signage, and was currently drafting citywide rules streamlining the staff level review of proposed storefront alterations.

Representatives from the Real Estate Board of New York, the local business improvement district, and residents of 75 Livingston reiterated their opposition. Representatives from the Brooklyn Heights Association, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the Municipal Arts Society urged the Council to approve the district. After extensive testimony, Chair Brad Lander laid over the vote until January 24, 2012.

When the Subcommittee reconvened, Council Member Levin asked his colleagues to approve the district as proposed. Levin said he understood the opposition’s concerns, but after a lengthy inquiry he “was convinced” that the additional costs due to landmarking would be minimal. Further, Levin said that Landmarks had agreed to propose promptly its new citywide storefront rules in order to streamline approvals for exterior work. Chair Lander agreed that the district deserved approval, but noted that the broader questions raised about the designation process and its impacts merited future discussions between Landmarks and the Council.

The Subcommittee approved the designation by a 4-0-2 vote, with Council Members Daniel J. Halloran and Jumaane D. Williams abstaining. Halloran expressed frustration with Landmarks’s “amorphous” standards, and said he was disappointed that “we wind up coming here time after time talking about what might happen after designation instead of getting concrete agreements, proposals, and commitments prior to designation.” Halloran pointed out that he has opposed all landmark designations since September 2011 because Landmarks has been unresponsive to his community’s request to create the Broadway-Flushing Historic District. Halloran said he would abstain this time out of respect for Council Member Levin. Council Member Williams abstained due to concerns about how the designation process impacts property owners with limited resources.

The Land Use Committee approved the designation by a 16-1-2 vote, with only Council Member Charles Barron voting no. The full Council approved the designation by a 46-1-2 vote.

Council: Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District (Feb. 1, 2012).

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